#213 Casino

(1995, Martin Scorsese)

“In Vegas, everybody’s gotta watch everybody else”

It’s about time a Martin Scorsese film turned up on this blog. As one of cinema’s most influential directors, it was pretty much inevitable he’d be in the 1001 Movies You Must See, and here he is. Of course, this isn’t the only film of his on the list, but it is the first one we’re taking a look at. Is Casino worth the hype Scorsese gets? Place your bets now!

Loosely based on a true story, Casino is about Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro), the man who oversees the day-to-day operations of the mob-run Tangiers casino. The movie follows his time in this position, from the casino’s rise to its massive success to its ultimate crash and burn, with plenty of betrayal, murder and other excitement thrown in for good luck.

Casino is a movie that has tried to do a lot, cramming seemingly thousands of important characters and subplots into a tiny framework. Lots of stuff happens, and it tends to happen pretty quickly. On paper the whole thing looks like a terrible mess.

A cursory glance confirms that fact at first, since the movie is told mostly through voiceover, alternating between Sam and the violent gangster Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), speeding through much of the plot as fast as possible. Initially, this makes the action appear very distant and if you’re not paying attention it could be very easy to get lost.

However, it actually does hold together well. The frantic pace of the movie steadily begins to make sense, the plot strands weave together sensibly and it becomes relatively easy to keep up with the action. Casino ultimately ends up being quite a tidy, stylish package. This is the first Scorsese movie I’ve ever seen, and I can easily see why he’s so praised.

While the story is pretty standard mob thriller territory, the presentation is slick across the board. For a start, the cinematography is top notch, presenting the casino itself as a shiny, welcoming place and then bluntly directing us to the drab, uninviting underworld that hides beneath it. The soundtrack, a mixture of major songs from the seventies and eighties time period, is also incredibly cool, and creates the perfect atmosphere.

There are also a bunch of excellent performances. While Joe Pesci plays the same role he always plays (a short-fused violent criminal), he still does it well. Sharon Stone manages to play the hustler and Sam’s eventual wife, Ginger, with a mixture of elegance and outright crazy depending on which part of her character we’re witnessing at that moment. But at the front is De Niro, who manages to capture the conflicted nature of the central character. He’s an honest man in a dishonest job, and sometimes it works out well for him and other times it doesn’t, and this masked frustration constantly comes through in his character. Admittedly, there are times when he can feel like he’s playing typical De Niro, but these are rare instances.

The pace is pretty decent. Initially it can seem a little dizzying when so much is thrown at you right at the start of the movie, but it gradually gets easier to deal with and it all makes sense when you realise how much is being crammed in. It wouldn’t work any other way. What’s more, despite the speedy pace, nothing ever feels too rushed and nothing feels like it was skipped over.

The pace of Casino isn’t perfect, however. The movie is three hours long, and around the two hour mark it does begin to feel a little bloated and things feel like they’re slowing down too much. It is a minor complaint, since it’s not a feeling that lasts and the movie does end satisfactorily, but it is worth noting.

Casino also never really shakes the feeling of being a little distant at times, a symptom of the narrated style. We feel less a part of the universe and more like we’re watching a documentary made years after the fact. The whole thing still works, mind. It’s just not as immersive as it potentially could be.

Overall, Casino surprised me. I was expecting to hate it, but I actually really enjoyed it. Not exactly a new favourite, but I was entertained. Scorsese certainly did play his cards right here.

Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Don Rickles & James Woods
Written by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
Produced by Barbara Da Fina
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

Favourite Scene: Have to admit, opening on the main character getting into an exploding car is a pretty good way to catch the viewers’ attention.
Scene That Bugged Me: As soon as Sam asks Ginger to marry him, I was screaming at the TV “I know where this is going, don’t do it!” because the “crazy wife in a gangster movie” cliché was driving me mad and it hadn’t even happened yet.

Watch it if: You like gambling and flashy suits
Avoid it if: Joe Pesci’s colourful language offends you

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Posted on August 28, 2013, in 1990s, Crime, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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